It is road salt season throughout the Hoosier State and highway departments need to keep track of how much material is left in stockpiles. Two civil engineering professors from Purdue University have developed an automated system that can estimate the volume, doing-away with rough visual estimates often used road maintenance crews. The Indiana Department of Transportation is partnering with the university in its Joint Transportation Research Program.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Purdue Professor of Civil Engineering Darcy Bullock explained how the Salt Monitoring and Reporting Technology (SMART) platform is helping INDOT.
‘It’s very hard to estimate stockpile quantities within say 30 or 40%. So, what the Smart Sensor technology does is it allows us to use a collection of cameras and LIDAR to accurately estimate the pile behind me within about 1%,” said Bullock, who is director of the research program. “It’s important to have an accurate inventory of what you have out there available for treatment of the roads during winter storms.”
LISTEN: Bullock further explains how the technology can help road departments.
Bullock says that the SMART platform was created to measure stockpiles of bulk supplies, such as road salt, raw industrial products and grain. Bullock and his Purdue engineering colleague, Professor Ayman Habib, say their system measures stockpile volumes faster, safer, cheaper, and more accurately than visual estimates.
Jeremy McGuffey, statewide winter operations manager for INDOT, says the department has nearly 120 salt storage buildings around the state and most locations visually estimate the volume.
“This is inherently incorrect and will vary from person to person,” McGuffey said. “If I pointed to a pile of stone on the ground, could another person accurately tell me the volume of that stone based on sight alone? There are a few locations that use survey equipment to take measurements based on the exterior size – the height and width – of the stockpile, but those don’t account for depth. Many of our buildings are full of salt year-round, and there is no way to reach the back side of the pile to determine how long it is.”
Bullock says the research is revealing the cost benefits.
“That truck maybe holds eight tons. So that’s $800. And we apply about 200 pounds per lane mile. So 200 pounds per lane mile. That’s like dropping a $10 bill out the window every mile you drive down the interstate. When you start scaling that, and an agency like Indiana DOT has 800 to 1000 trucks out there during a full call out storm. That’s a lot of salt being applied
Habib and Bullock have applied for a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. According to Habib, the next steps for SMART are to package the system to be permanently mounted for automated data collection, and to strengthen its ability to work in storage facilities with domed rooftops.